The US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to keep restrictions preventing US citizens from traveling to Cuba, despite efforts by the Obama administration to reinstate diplomatic relations after 50 years.
The House, controlled by Republicans, voted 247 to 176 to retain a provision in a transportation funding bill sponsored by Cuban-American Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl.) from the Miami area.
President Obama was advised on June 1 by the Office of Management Budget (OMB) to veto the $55.3 billion funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, known as THUD.
While the bill (H.R. 2577) was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on May 13, before it is sent to the President to sign or veto it must first be approved by the full House and Senate.
“Not only are the current provisions in this bill wrong for diplomacy, they’re patently anti-business,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) whose amendment to eliminate the provision failed.
The provision would block new rules issued in January that would allow regularly scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba and relax restrictions on travel to the island.
The newly blocked rules were meant to ease travel to Cuba by merely requiring US travelers to assert their trip would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes rather than obtain a licence from the Treasury Department.
The measure contains language that prevents licensing of new flights and cruise ship routes to Cuba if they land on or pass through property confiscated by the Castro regime, The Hill reported.
Rep. Mark Sanford (D-S.C.) said traveling to Cuba is not the same as supporting the Castro regime.
“If I travel on Delta Airlines to Moscow, it does not mean that I support Putin. If I travel on Royal Caribbean to Shanghai, it does not mean I support the Chinese regime,” he said.
Diaz-Balart said the White House was wrong to lift the travel restrictions because the flights would land at an airport that was partially owned by US interests when it was seized by the Castro government.
“What you are saying is, ‘It’s OK to do business on property that was stolen from Americans’,” he said.
The vote on Thursday was the second blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to improve relations with Cuba. A day before, the House voted to keep a provision in a separate appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce and Justice that bans exports to members of the Cuban military and intelligence service and their families.